For Leonard Fournette, watching his early-season miscues on film was the worst.
“It was hurtful,” the LSU running back said.
There was that pitch from quarterback Anthony Jennings that smacked off his hands and fell to the ground — a 10-yard loss in the season-opening win over Wisconsin in Houston.
On another play, a hole opened to the left side, offering plenty of daylight for the 230-pound freshman. But Fournette cut back to the right, swung around the tight end and was met by three bodies.
A third play was designed for Fournette to follow fullback Connor Neighbors up the middle, but the freshman bounced it outside for a hard collision and no gain.
“Learned a lot,” Fournette said.
The former top-ranked recruit in the nation spoke to reporters for the first time this season following Saturday night’s 63-7 over New Mexico State. He had a simple message: I’m getting better.
“I was rushing everything,” Fournette said. “I was making cuts I really didn’t need to make. I wasn’t being patient. I was getting hit in the backfield, as y’all saw.”
Things are changing.
Through the season’s first five games, Fournette leads the team in rushing (322 yards), is second in carries (56) and is tied for the lead in rushing touchdowns (four).
The now-No. 15 Tigers (4-1, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) travel to No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0) on Saturday with Fournette having usurped seniors Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee as the featured back in LSU’s rushing attack. He has the best average per run (5.8) of the Tigers’ four tailbacks.
Who would have thought that? A lot of folks, actually, given preseason expectations.
Even Fournette admits to placing a ton of pressure on himself early this season. He ran for just 18 yards on eight carries against Wisconsin, a dud of a debut for a guy who entered the season among the top 25 on Heisman Trophy odds lists.
Tigers fans weren’t the only ones expecting Fournette to routinely break the 200-yard mark.
“I was kind of hard on myself,” he said. “I was so used to having 200 rushing yards in a game, but that didn’t happen. I was kind of disappointed. I talked to coach, talked to my father and my mother. They were like, ‘It’s college now. It’s not going to happen in high school like it used to happen.’ ”
It’s starting to happen.
Fournette had the first 100-yard rushing game of his college career against the Aggies. He ran for 122 yards on 18 carries, making him the Tigers’ leading rusher in the past four games.
His numbers are historic for a true freshman. The last time a true freshman tailback led LSU in rushing through five games was Charles Scott in 2006. No true freshman at LSU has run for as many yards as Fournette through the first five games since 1995, when Kevin Faulk had 366.
Still, during interviews after the win over New Mexico State, the 10 to 15 reporters surrounding Fournette slowly slipped away for brighter stars, like quarterback Brandon Harris. Fournette grinned as he glanced at the 20-plus reporters surrounding Harris, who took over for Anthony Jennings and led LSU to seven touchdowns in his seven drives.
Fournette and Harris are close friends. They live in the same dorm and worked out together — with fellow freshman receiver Malachi Dupre — on the weekend after Dupre and Fournette signed with LSU in February.
Now, they’re all chipping in. Dupre and Harris have hooked up for four touchdown passes, and Fournette has those team-leading rushing yards and four scores.
“It’s funny,” Fournette said. “It’s kind of like we’re living a dream. I always thought about being in college, and now I’m really in there.”
It took some time to find his rhythm. He’d like to forget that game against Wisconsin; Fournette struggled to find the right hole, had that fumble on a pitch and failed to dazzle the more than 40,000 LSU fans who made the trip to Houston.
Running backs coach Frank Wilson and fellow backs Hilliard and Magee preached at least one thing to the young guy: Be patient.
“You just got to be patient, slow down,” Fournette said. “I’ve been taking all of that and been slowing it down, and the cuts have been there for me.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.